Opinion and Analysis

Africa the odd one out at G20 summit

By David Monyae

7 November 2018

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, centre, opens a meeting as part of the ‘G20 Compact with Africa Conference’ at the chancellery in Berlin last month. The blatant exclusion of African states in decisions affecting the global economy and other world issues is palpable, says the writer. File picture: John MacDougall/AP

Overwhelmingly outnumbered is the sentiment for the upcoming summit in Buenos Aires, from an African perspective. South Africa is, as usual, the solitary African voice at the G20 summit where the world’s more “industrialised” (read Western) powers will discuss global matters.

In line with tradition criticised since the 1884 Berlin Conference, the major economies meet to discuss economic growth; sustainable use of natural resources and climate change; and promoting equal opportunities and inclusiveness.

The Berlin Conference was viewed, owing mostly due to Basil Davidson’s documentary, The Magnificent African Cake, as a crime against humanity because of its reduction of an entire continent’s people to unwilling participants in European industrialisation and development.

The blatant exclusion of African states in decisions affecting the global economy and other world issues is palpable. Each continent seems to have relatively adequate representation with at least two G20 member states, North America and Europe, having the lion’s share.

The clearly one-sided global directive coming out of these engagements is deliberate, because a significant addition of an AU to feign balance would provide support for the lowly South African voice. However, it would disturb the stage-hogging giants.

Weeks after the G20 curtain-raiser summit for finance ministers and Monetary Fund Governors of the G20 nations, the now official communications channel from the White House (the daily tweet from the master bedroom lavatory), sent out a message about recent positive talks regarding trade with China.

The message was echoed by President Xi Jinping on CGTN about his openness to meet the US and foster a mutually beneficial partnership in the G20’s corridors.

These pre-emptive engagements are to be concluded in Argentina in a climate of diplomacy. The global markets reacted almost immediately after a risk averse period with the rumblings of a trade war where the US subjected Chinese products to tariffs to the tune of $250billion (R3.5trillion). China responded with tariffs of its own worth $110bn. The Asian and US markets showed gains, indicating conflict and protectionism are not only anti-development but also bad for business.

The US and China trade relations will surely eclipse the more politically correct items on the Buenos Aires agenda – global profits and revenue maximisation tend to do more for informing international policy than people’s needs.

This is especially concerning for the sole African participant at the summit because the rhetoric of improving people’s lives rings no truer than in Africa. This continent is the most desperate for development and inclusive growth enjoyed by the rest of the world, but sadly is the most ostracised. The G20’s structure and mandate prove this.

A contingency plan at the 2017 Hamburg Summit was the G20 Compact with Africa (CwA) during the G20’s German presidency. It is the proverbial bridge with the G20 and African nations, as it is open to all African countries to increase sustained private sector investment. This German-initiated forum met last week for a review of progress made.

But it seems this became a bilateral affair with most of the outcome featuring Ramaphosa and Merkel strengthening their own ties through a Binational Commission and increased co-operation in the UN Security Council amid large investment pledges made by German companies during the Investment Conference in South Africa a week earlier. It truly seems that profits garner more attention than people.

So, in Argentina, Ramaphosa will have to balance national interest and the African agenda. It is critically important for South Africa to focus on investment and aligning itself with the large players. Africa’s concerns need to be seriously discussed on the G20 agenda.

Dr David Monyae is the Co-Director at the University of Johannesburg Confucius Institute. This article was originally published in Pretoria News.